C-390 Millennium. The New Generation Airlifter, For Today’s World

Credit: Embraer

It was in 1929, when the Royal Air Force evacuated almost 600 people – mostly women and children – from the tensely troubled capital of Afghanistan to India, that a new page in the history of aviation was written. It was the first humanitarian airlift ever, the precursor of all such operations from Berlin to Saigon.

Fast forward almost 100 years, and little has changed. Aircraft are now being used on an almost daily basis to bring help to lands destroyed by conflict and war, and where extremes of poverty are made more terrible still by outbreaks of illness and disease, from Ebola to COVID-19. Whether a crisis is man-made or naturally occurring, the speed with which humanitarian support can be delivered – perhaps in the form of essential medical supplies, or food, water and shelter – becomes a matter, quite literally, of life or death.

In such scenarios, aircraft need to be able to deliver aid and support, in quantity, where it is needed most. But that doesn’t always mean in a city center, or within easy access of an established airfield. It can also mean out in the more inaccessible parts of a country, using hastily-built temporary landing strips, in difficult and sometimes potentially hostile terrain where not everyone is so pleased to see you. That takes a special type of aircraft; that takes an aircraft like the C-390 Millennium from Embraer.

With the Embraer C-390 Millennium, Embraer has demonstrated a new generation of thinking, and created a new generation of aircraft. This multi-mission military transport aircraft has been designed from the outset with flexibility at its core, setting a new standard in medium air mobility. It provides the perfect blend of mature and proven technology with state-of-the-art thinking to ensure the best of both worlds – reliability and new experience in performance.

The new technology it does feature is there to fulfil a very specific purpose: the combination of a human/machine interface (HMI) with a full fly-by-wire (FBW) control system, for example, significantly reduces crew workload, whereas the enhanced situational awareness that HMI delivers also helps protect the safety of the crew and the mission. The aircraft also features advanced mission software to provide total control over the mission scenario to the crew, while a fully integrated Onboard Maintenance System (OMS) looks after the health of the aircraft itself.

“Both the internal and external configuration of the C-390 Millennium can be quickly and easily changed to accommodate different needs, including humanitarian aid support. It can accommodate, for example, up to 74 stretchers and eight attendants. Or it can be configured to accommodate seven 463L pallets, or a combination of pallets, people and even animals, from medical staff to search and rescue dogs. It can also carry vehicles such as ambulances or even helicopters. 

“In every configuration, passengers experience exceptional levels of cabin comfort. This is especially the case in long-haul flights where the wide cabin leaves space to stretch one’s legs – even with pallets and other cargo onboard – and the automatic temperature control, a well-equipped galley, accessible toilet and reduced vibration and noise throughout make for a more pleasant journey.”

Performance is at the heart of every feature of the aircraft: it has a maximum payload (concentrated) of 26 metric tons and its highly reliable twin IAE V2500 jet engines give it a cruising speed of 0.8 Mach which means the Millennium can deliver more aid much faster than any other airplane in the medium airlift market. And with a range of more than 3,000 miles, it can also deliver anywhere in the world to some of the planet’s most inhospitable places, with robust four-wheel Bogie-type main landing gear and intelligent engine mounting that allows it to take off and land on any surface, in any weather, from the most arid desert to the snow and ice of the freezing Arctic.

Crucially, the Embraer C-390 Millennium is already proven in the roles for which it is designed. During the height ofthe COVID pandemic, for example, the Brazilian Air Force employed the C-390 to deliver vital medical supplies, including ambulances and liquid oxygen, to remote communities in the Amazon Basin. Oxygen is more typically transported as gas cylinders, so the fact it was in liquid form – at much higher pressure – meant additional failsafes are required to mitigate the risk and to enable the oxygen to be expelled in an emergency – something that isn’t possible with a regular commercial aircraft. As well as canisters, on one occasion it carried a complete oxygen generating plant to the state of Amazonas. This was in addition to the weight of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), hospital respirators and vaccines it has already delivered.

After the 2021 Haiti earthquake, a C-390 was also used by the Brazilian Air Force to deliver some 10.5 tonnes of medicines, food and health equipment to help victims and support the emergency relief operation. And when adevastating explosion occurred in the port area of Beirut, Lebanon, it was again down to the Brazilian Air Force to getvital medicines and food supplies ‘on the ground’, something they achieved in just under 16 hours.

More recently still, and with the current crisis in the Ukraine still very much ongoing, an C-390 Millennium from the Brazilian Air Force played its part in helping almost 70 refugees – along with eight dogs and two cats – to make it safely home to Brazil as part of Operation Repatriation. The aircraft completed its mission of mercy having picked up its passengers from Warsaw thanks to a major diplomatic effort from the Brazilian Government.

It is not just the Brazilian Air Force that has come to recognise the true value, flexibility and performance that such an aircraft can bring. It has now been chosen by the Portuguese and Hungarian air forces to lead their humanitarian missions and to show that wherever you are in the world, and whenever a crisis occurs, you can always trust in the C-390 Millennium to deliver.